Sitting in front of a computer at Snell on a rainy Saturday, Northeastern student Dmitri Hunt has two tabs open: the syllabus for one of his classes; Embedded Design: Enabling Robotics; the other is the music schedule for Wally’s Café Jazz Club on Mass Ave.
“There’s a jazz show tonight,” Hunt says, “It’s free, but they make you buy a five dollar beer when you walk in.”
If you opened one of Hunt’s notebooks, you’d find pages of binary code, elaborate models of robot construction, convoluted equations of multivariable calculus and programming, written with a dull pencil and complemented with the occasional coffee stain. If you opened another, written just as meticulously, every page is filled back to back with words, making up alternating entries of poetry, lyrics, and short stories. In an interaction of unexpected interests, he is constantly maintaining a balance between his challenging studies and artistic passions. Defying the logic of a typical nineteen year old, he is able to do so in a way where he overachieves in each pursuit, while sparing no moment to make a joke indicative of his idiosyncratic sense of humor.
“Did you hear the adverb that girl just used to describe the word ‘complicated’?” he asks me, having eavesdropped on some students within earshot, without taking his eyes off of his homework, a complicated circuit design on the display. “She used ‘fricken ass’.” He chuckles with a grin as he continues to look closely at his screen. “I already know this program isn’t going to work.”
“OK, it works,” he says coolly, less than one minute later.
Growing up in Salisbury, Massachusetts, Hunt — a second year electrical engineering major — says it was seeing Walk the Line, a 2005 documentary on the life and career of Johnny Cash, which acted as a catalyst for his interest in music. He began playing guitar at twelve years old to provide a medium for his songwriting.
“It really picked up in high school. I started listening to The Velvet Underground when I was like 14; that really got me into that rock subculture in America and that style of writing songs.”
He began playing at open mics periodically during his freshman year of high school, bouncing between near and far cafes and coffee shops on windy nights in every season, with his weathered guitar case beside him on trains or taking up the entirety of the trunk of his Honda Civic. A black and white sticker on the bumper reads ‘BUY MORE RECORDS’; watching him gracefully and methodically guide the stick shift into each unfriendly gear while smoking a cigarette and holding his phone for directions is both stressful and alluring. The first time I offered to hold something for him while riding shotgun, he replied with a scoff.
“I feel really bad when I don’t go. I have friends there,” Hunt says, speaking of a weekly open mic at the Walnut Street Café in Lynn, Massachusetts. He discovered the community in the November of his first semester at Northeastern, and has tried to attend periodically ever since. Unfortunately, his demanding course load often incurs a hiatus of a few weeks or more. In contrast, he would play at several different locations regularly in high school with a more conducive academic life, averaging around two each week. Upon entering the tiny intimate café, he’s greeted with a room full of musicians squished on couches or sitting shoulder to shoulder around small round tables adorned with beer bottles, glasses of wine, and coffee cups.
Though he is easily the youngest in the room and even several decades younger than a few regulars, everyone recognizes him when he is called up and claps as he brings his guitar up, visibly warmed to a smile by seeing a familiar and incredibly talented musician. Hunt’s performances tend to showcase a cover of a favorite of his as well as an original song, either one he’s written years ago and even played at the same venue in the past, or one written only a few days prior, complete with tentative verses and ripe emotional threads.
To call Hunt gifted would be an understatement, as the balance of his art and academics is constant, active, and strenuous. But the results are rewarding: he’s recently been producing more music than ever, both as a solo artist and as a guitarist and singer in a band with some friends. This semester has been the most difficult in terms of classes for him in his college career so far. His free time has been severed, and he’s switched from buying American Spirits by the pack to by the carton.
“Did I tell you about my circuits quiz?” he asked me the other day after just getting out of his robotics lab around five in the evening, the changing season bringing a noticeably earlier sunset, making it seem as if our classes are long enough to last into the night.
“The class average was a sixty,” he says, breaking into chuckles while shaking his head at the statistic.
“How did you do?” I asked.
“How did I do?” He responded. “I got a one hundred.”